Jacob Goleman Johnson September 16, 1921
Granny's Peach Cobbler

Appalachia Through My Eyes - Zizzer Buttons

My life in appalachia toy made with buttons

Ever play with a button on a string? Mamaw made one for me when I was just a child. I swear I remember exactly where I was standing in the house that's no longer there, when she showed me how to make the button dance along the string.

I pulled everything out of a closet to see if I still had one in my old jewelry box-you know the kind that has a ballerina that twirls every time you open the lid? Anyway, I found 2 so it was worth the effort.

After looking at them, I decided neither of them was the one Mamaw made for me so many years ago. Most likely I made them myself after she passed away.

I googled around and discovered a button on a string was a common toy for kids in days gone by and that they were often called zizzer or buzz buttons. You can go here to see a list of old time toys, with buzz buttons being the last on the page.

Ever play with a button on a string?


Appalachia Through My Eyes - A series of photographs from my life in Southern Appalachia.

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life moments, that is what I call them. tiny memories of your past that escape until something brings them back.

We had the button thing. And then just long loops of string to do Witches brooms and jacobs ladder.

Great memories today.

'Mamaw' must be very old .. I had one too. Have never heard it used since, and I'm 70.

Tipper-This makes you realize, young kids don't grow up, they just turn into old kids.
Aren't you surprised nobody mentioned our telephones made from a piece of string and two tin cans.

Looks like just about all has been covered by your commentors..
I commented yesterday but it must have gotten lost as it was pretty long..I clicked it spun, but it went to never, never land I guess..
Dad made us a zizzer out of the large coat buttons that were beginning to show up in Moms button jars in the forties...Yep, got one in my hair too and it hurts like crazy...I think Mom cut it out..
I was nature crazy and still am and Dad knew it..I was always saying I wasn't afraid of snakes..
He came in from work one night and handed me an old dirty envelope the kind that always cluttered up his dash on the old truck...He said he found these Rattlesnake rattles under some old boards where he was working..I opened it and got the "peewater" scared out of me and the envelope went flying. He laughed til supper, and then some!
We had darts made of corncobs and feathers...too...The boys always making their own bows and arrows out of sapplings...
I taught my boys how to make a zizzer..or whizzer...We also made a thing to swing around our head out of a long piece of rope with a small paddle tied on one end that had a hole in it...It made a good racket when your flung it around long enough...I see that most never said what the sling was made of...I made slingshots for my boys too...We took when I was a kid and old inner tube..cut the two sling lengths out...Got an old leather shoe tongue and secured the rubber in the holes..We used Moms ice pick and got caught sometimes...then secured the ends to the forked stick..Now then the forked stick had to be stripped of the bark and seems it lasted longer..You could be in a world of hurt if someone zapped something with a marble in the sling instead of a rock...I hate to say many an old starling met his maker with the slingshot..we were ate up with starlings...
No amount of "techy" pushbutton, ear plugging devices today could match the fun and health aspects of mountain toys...
Thanks Tipper

I also recall taking a tin with a twist on lid(a tobacco tin)and we put a small hole in the bottom center and top/lid center and thread a heavyduty elastic band through the holes of each part. To hold the elastic in place, we separated a wooden clothes peg, to use to hold the elastic to the outside of the tin through the hole. You need to twist the elastic several times very tight before threading it through the hole on the opposite side of the tin. Thus, when you closed the tin lid, with both ends of the elastic threaded through on opposite ends of the tin, it would roll back and forth on the floor, due to the tightly twisted heavyduty elastic band between the top and bottom of it. Pretty cool toy and entertaining to pets also, as well as young ones.

Yes, I recall the button zizzer, as well as the string we had used to play cats in the cradle. "Butcher string" worked best for the latter game.
We played "red rover" too until our wrists were beat red from someone trying to break our human chain. Hopscotch was another childhood game and "kick the can". Yes, it's too bad the electronic technology has taken over and many youngsters today miss out on having the fun we so enjoyed doing. It was inexpensive fun, as well as educational.

We used to do that too, but with a cardboard disc cut from an old Cornflakes box rather than a button; works just as well.

Not long ago my sister and I were talking about the toys Mother made for us to play with. We both remembered the zizzer button. We decided we could actually remember how to make those.

The comments here are a pleasure to read; after enjoying your article. Some mentioned it; I'm sure most who made and played with one of these "zizzers" knew that if you even got anywhere close to your sister's long hair, there would be heck to pay. Once the whirring button gets even one attracted hair, the result is a balled-up, mess of hair wound tight onto the button and into the string and an impossible tangle to undo, comb out or fix; almost always, the hair ball had to be cut out.

Susan's right; a big coat button works great.

We made lots of playthings, didn't we? Pop guns, slingshots, whistles, bow and arrows, things made from empty thread spools and zizzers (actually, we never had a name for the buzzing button on a winding string some call a zizzer). Much better than texting and staring at a Smartphone.

I read John's comment about 'hog
killin' time' and that triggered
me to comment again. John, when I
was about 6 or 8, I remember two
older men coming and killin' our
hog for us. One guy's name was
Purell Miller and he asked daddy
just keep them a fire and water a
boilin' and they'd do the rest.
Finally he brought me and my
brother the bladder, told us to
wash that thing in the creek real
good, and showed us how to blow
it up and tie it. Best thing we
ever had for a ball to bounce on.
Its a thousand wonders we didn't'
get a disease puttin' that thing
in our mouths. I'm still here!!!

Tipper, you sure do jog the memory. It's nice to spend a little time thinking about days gone by when things weren't so complicated. We played with "hummer buttons" and even longer pieces of string to make "Jacob's Ladder." Plus, there was jump rope, jack's (I still have mine,) marbles and hopscotch. When the Hula Hoop came out in the late 50s, a big grocery store in town held a Hula Hoop contest with prizes. I Hula Hooped for 5 hours and 10 minutes (they had to tell me to stop) to win one of 20 $1.00 gift certificates which I used to buy a bag of marshmallows, a box of cookies and plenty of candy. What a day! And remember, those were the days when you could buy a Coke or a Hershey bar for a nickel. Years later, I made "hummer buttons" for my own kids. They are great fun but watch out for purple fingers if you play with them for too long.
PS: Will you PUH-LEEZE spill the beans about your fairy tale plant? The suspense is driving me crazy! I wonder if it's more of a nightmare plant -- maybe Jimson weed.

My favorite toys were the pop guns my daddy made us. I believe the barrel was made of a hollowed piece of alder. He carved a little ram-rod the length of the barrel. We would load both ends with what we called pop gun berries from "the popgun berry tree" along Mountain Road. When the ram-rod forced the berry down the barrel the berry on the far end would explode out. We spent hours shooting them. When you got just the right berries a little puff of smoke would come out the end of the barrel. He would make us water squirters a similar way. Another favorite toy daddy made was a slip bark whistle. When I think of those whistles it makes me feel the freedom and joy of running barefoot in the East Tennessee springtime. So much fun for so little cost - just the time it took a loving daddy to make them!

Ican remember the button string.
can any one remember hog killing time. best toy I ever had Dad would take blatter and blow it up it would last for days frist ballon I ever had.

At the festival the Blacksmith and I were in this past weekend (Heritage Festival) the kids were making those!

Probably spent hours playing with these. The treat was to come up with a big overcoat button or the like. They were always around.

Gina's description of her 'sling shot' was what we called a flip in my childhood days. A sling shot was two strips of leather or cord with a pad for the projectile to rest. You twirled it around and released one end to sling the rock. My dad and uncles taught me to make a variety of toys. Whistles, wooden wheeled wagons, pop guns, an acrobat etc. I Got in trouble in school over my four barreled pop gun - four pop guns taped together. Now that I think about it I was in some kind of trouble most every day even through high school. I could probably be labeled 'a teacher's worst nightmare'.

The thing we did with string was called a cat's cradle. There was also a cup and saucer and a Jacob's ladder. All made with a string tied in a loop.

Thanks for reminding me of the old
timey things that can pleasure a
kid for the longest. Daddy used a
hickory stick about a foot long
stuck through a Red Rider wagon
wheel and me and my brother bent
over and drove that thing all over
our property. (with our butts
pointed toward the Moon.) And when
Hula Hoops came out, he made us
one from 1/2" black pvc pipe,
connected by a short stick. Our
toys were "make do" but we didn't
miss out on much...Ken

I remember all of these. My grandmother also did a lot of things with string, but I don't remember how she did it. One of them had "cradle" in its name. We had a lot of fun with "truck" wagons. Everything, including wheels, were homemade from wood. This article suggests an activity for our Heritage Festival next year: Demonstrations of building and playing with homemade toys. We have marble shooting already, and a "truck" wagon in the museum.

I think we called them "buzzers". Speaking of getting toys tangled up in hair--my son ran his friction car across his aunt's head & it wound her hair up in the wheels very tightly. She was hollering it hurt so much. Moving the car tightened the hair until we finally figured out to turn the wheels backward.

Yes indeed I did play with a button on a string---when we were small children my dad made is each one.... interesting how some things --no matter the distance between us all occur and we all played with many of the same things.

OH my I had forgotten how my Daddy taught my sister and I play with those buttons on a string. Thanks for the memories.

I never heard of these before, but do recall a homemade sling shot my Daddy made for me. He used a forked piece of tree branch, something like a wide rubber band and a patch of leather to hold the shot. I never harmed anything with it, but had lots of fun shooting. I'm going to look into making one of these buttons for my grand boys. Thanks for sharing.

My Grandfather Pop, who was born in 1897, knew about them and made me one when I was about 5 or 6. But my fascination only lasted a few minutes. I was way to active for it to keep me busy, so he went down to the shed and pulled out one of my Mother's old saddles, a croker sack, a long rope and made me the greatest toy I ever had at his house besides the cement pond - a saddle swing in the old oak tree. Everyone got excited and told him I would break my neck, but he said no she won't and I never fell off. :D

My Grandpa made these for us when I was a kid. Old coat buttons were the best. He also made a toy out of rattle snake rattles and string but I could never make it rattle. He made us really cool whistles out of (I think Pawpaw) sticks. I am sure he did that to mess with my Grandma since we weren't allowed to have them in the house.

I've never heard of a zizzer button, but isn't it amazing how clever and creative mothers in the past were when it came to keeping the little ones entertained and out from underfoot!
Thanks Tipper, for enlightening me once again!

A friend and I were just talking about these last week! and yes- they were a bear to get out of long hair!! We made these and played with these as children- My mother or her mother showed us how-
now if I could just remember what we made that we put in an envelope to surprise someone- when they opened it it would buzz and startle them- we used to call them rattlesnakes...

I am pretty sure we called it a zizzer too. I also remember the little tractor Tim is talking about. My uncle Frank Breedlove made me one when he came back from Korea. I remember it had notches cut in the spool that made it look like tractor wheels. I would like to know how to make one so I can make it for my grandsons. I can make the zizzer.

played with them many times as a kid. i think one of my maw maws made my first. probably because they all sewed back then and always had extra buttons lyin' around. they sell them at the gift shop at john c. campbell as a "buzz saw", made out of hand-carved wooden buttons. did any of you ever play with a "gee-haw whimmy diddle" as well? we shore could be entertained quite easily back then in the hills of gordon county ga. did any of you ever tie sewing thread to the leg of a june bug? that was our equivilent of a remote controlled airplane. as long as we were careful, we could play with it for a while and release the poor june bug "no worse for wear". hey, that's another old southern country sayin'!

I played many times with a zizzer button and like Ed I got in trouble for "accidentally" letting them get into my sisters' hair. There must have been a magnetic attraction, at least that's my story and I'm sticking to it. Actually if you ever noticed these toys are a primative gyroscope.

We made those, but I never had a button that big for one! The bigger the button, the better they work.

I too had at least one as a kid. Hadn't seen one for years.

I remember playing with one of those as well. Did anyone ever play with a June Bug tied to a piece of sewing thread? I loved flying those little critters, it was like having a tiny gas powered airplane on a tether. My grandpa use to make us a pop gun. It was more like a hollow stick with a plunger and it was made to shoot dogwood tree berries. Is would hurt like the dickens when you got shot by one of those.

A button on a string was one of my favorite toys. My Grandma showed me how to make them. She always warned me to hold it away from my face so that when the string broke, as it always would, it wouldn't put my eye out!

Even being a big city girl growing up in Charlotte, I remember playing with a button on a string. Maybe I can become a mountain girl one of these days after all.

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